134 Chiefs of Staff Committee Minute 11/1946

Extracts [MELBOURNE], 20 March 1946




The object of this Minute is to forward, for Ministerial approval, the attached Appreciation by the Chiefs of Staff on the Strategical Position of Australia, February, 1946.


2. The Chiefs of Staff Committee stressed the highly secret nature of the attachment to this Minute, and expressed the view that its distribution and circulation should be limited to the greatest possible extent.


3. The Chiefs of Staff are of the opinion that this strategical paper (including relevant political aspects) should form a basic document for Australia's part in Empire planning, and for the determination of her post war forces and other related matters.


4. It is stated in the Appreciation that, in a war with the U.S.S.R., a major threat to Empire interests in Europe, the Middle East, and India, will always be present, and that such a threat will extend to the South Pacific, if Russia develops sea power.

5. In this connection, the Chief of the Air Staff has expressed the view that in the time required for Russia to develop sea power, it might be possible for her to establish in the Pacific, by political action, air bases from which very long range aircraft with atomic bombs could devastate vital areas, e.g. oil storage and production plants in the N.E.I., or seriously interfere with sea communications, e.g. those in the Indian Ocean east of Colombo. A major threat to Empire interests in the Pacific might therefore arise by the development of either air or sea power.

6. The Chief of the Naval Staff and the Chief of the General Staff are of the opinion that this view is covered by paragraph 44 of the Appreciation which states 'Russia can not exert a direct threat on Australia on a scale larger than a raid, unless she succeeds in her apparent determination to build up her naval strength. If, as appears possible, Russia is to become the dominant factor in the rejuvenation and rebuilding of Japan, especially in relation to the shipbuilding industry, the imminence of her becoming a potential aggressor in the Pacific would be advanced. Further if she were to dominate China (and the trend is in that direction) the situation as regards the interests of the British Commonwealth would be grave.'They recall that the second paragraph of the Appreciation refers to the need to review the paper periodically, and whenever any change in the international situation, or in scientific development, renders this necessary.


7. The Chiefs of Staff recommend that the attached paper-An Appreciation of the Strategical Position of Australia, February, 1946-be approved by the Minister.

C.G.S. (Sgd.) V. A. H. STURDEE (Sgd.) G. C. OLDHAM C.N.S. (Sgd.) L. HAMILTON Commander, C.A.S. (Sgd.) G. JONES Joint Secretary, Chiefs of Staff Committee.

20th March, 1946.




(1) The concept of strategical isolation is irreconcilable with the realities of modern war.

(2) As long as the United Nations remains in being, the problem of local defence is virtually non-existent. Should the United Nations break down, the security of every nation of the British Commonwealth will depend on the effectiveness of a plan of Empire Defence and on co-operation with the U.S.A.

(3) Provided we have in peace a firm plan of Empire defence and arrangements for co-operation with the U.S.A., the possibility of invasion in the foreseeable future can be excluded.

(4) The role of the armed forces in the next war should be the fulfilment of Australia's obligations in a wide strategical plan, and, consequently, any organisation on the basis of home defence would necessitate reorganisation and inevitable dislocation in the face of an emergency, as overseas commitments may be necessary and unavoidable in the initial stages of the war.

(5) If the forces are organised with a view to playing their part in the overall strategical plan contemplated, they would, if circumstances so required, be adaptable to the home needs without material reorganisation.

(6) The primary considerations in the organisation and training of the armed forces should be the provision of a balanced Task Force of the three Services, and the avoidance of any system which will require reorganisation or the raising of a special force on the outbreak of war.

The United Nations Charter (7) A study of the United Nations Charter leads to the following conclusions:-

(a) the only war in which Australia could be involved while the United Nations remains in being would be with a minor power;

further, it would be a war in which she would have major allies;

(b) armed forces to be maintained by Australia for the fulfilment of obligations under the Charter will be small but will need to be Permanent Forces;

(c) the facilities which Australia is under an obligation to provide may include the use of bases at Darwin, the north-west coast, and Fremantle. There is no legitimate reason under the Charter for granting base facilities elsewhere on the Australian mainland or in any of her external territories. Reference should, however, be made to paragraph 85, in which it is stressed that the U.S.A. should be afforded facilities at Manus on the understanding that we have the clear right to their joint use at all times, in peace and war, whether or not the U.S.A. is a belligerent.

(d) Australia does not require bases in any foreign territory for the purposes of the Charter;

(e) a breakdown of the United Nations would almost certainly result from an irreconcilable difference among the Big Three, and, in such an event, a resultant war might commence immediately.

Empire Defence (8) Empire co-ordination (which is referred to later) need not conflict with our obligations under the United Nations Charter, but, on the contrary, would make it possible for the British Commonwealth to contribute in a more effective manner to the needs of the Security Council.

(9) No nation of the British Commonwealth is comparable as a great power, with either the U.S.A., or the U.S.S.R., but, taken as a whole, with adequate co-ordination, the Empire is in a strong position.

(10) If the Empire can be assured of the active co-operation of the United States of America in an emergency, her position is immeasurably strengthened. On the other hand, history has shown quite clearly that International agreements entered into with all sincerity may be evaded if, subsequently, such a course is advantageous. The strategy of the British Commonwealth therefore must make provision for the less favourable conditions under which the assistance of the United States cannot be guaranteed from the outset, and in these circumstances a coordinated Empire plan becomes of added importance.

(11) All nations of the British Empire owe their individual security to the combined action of the Empire as a whole: they have a vital interest in the maintenance of Empire communications and their responsibilities towards Empire security must accordingly extend beyond the defence of their own territories. It is essential therefore, that Australia, in common with other nations of the Commonwealth, should, when necessary, throw her maximum effort into the area in which her forces are most required: it is in Australia's interests that agreement be reached with other nations of the Empire on a reciprocal basis, that her forces will be employed in accordance with an agreed over-all plan in an emergency, or when the international situation requires such action as a precautionary measure.

(12) Economy of force requires that the initial responsibility for securing Empire interests should be borne, as far as is practicable, by the nation nearest to, or most immediately affected by, events in any particular area.

(13) Standardisation of organisation, equipment, and training of the armed forces within the Empire, should be [e]ffected throughout the Commonwealth, and the revival of the Committee of imperial Defence, in the organisation of which the Dominions should be permanently represented, is an urgent necessity for planning purposes.

Regional Security (14) Arrangements for Regional Security, to be effective, must be made in relation to a wider plan and not solely on local considerations.

(15) The establishment of a regional zone of defence with New Zealand is without reason while the United Nations remains effective, and, unless it forms part of a wider plan, would invite disaster if the United Nations should break down. The Military Clauses of the Australia - New Zealand Agreement, 1944, therefore, require revision.

The Potential Enemy and the Time Factor (16) The U.S.S.R. is a potential enemy of the future, and it is at least prudent to plan our National Insurance Policy accordingly.

(17) The provision of adequate forces might postpone resort to combat indefinitely. On the other hand, weak forces will result in war being a very high probability.

(18) To ensure the protection of our vital interests against an aggressive U.S.S.R., not only will the united efforts of the nations of the British Empire in a coordinated plan be required, but the assistance of the U.S.A. will be essential.

(19) A war against the U.S.S.R. will not be confined to any one area, but whatever course it may take there will always be a major threat to the Empire's interests in Europe, the Middle East, India, and if Russia develops sea power, in the Pacific. Australia is directly concerned with the main strategic interests of the Empire in each of the areas mentioned.

Strategic Interests (20) The strategic interests of the Empire in the areas of most immediate concern to Australia are as follows:-

(a) Middle East and Indian Ocean:

(i) The integrity of British Territories which border on the Indian Ocean;

(ii) Oil resources;

(iii) The sea route debouching from the Red Sea;

(iv) The air route through the Middle East;

(v) The Middle East base for an Imperial Reserve.

(b) South East Asia and the Pacific:

(i) The security of Australia, New Zealand and Western Canada, and of their sea and air communications;

(ii) The defence of possessions and dependencies, viz., Hong Kong, Malaya, North Borneo, New Guinea and the smaller islands in the Pacific. These territories, apart from their political and economic significance, have a role in a strategical plan to ensure the security of the Dominions;

(iii) The supplies of raw materials from the Netherlands East Indies. In the event of our Persian oil fields being lost, the Empire's capacity to wage war would be seriously jeopardised should we be denied supplies of oil from the Netherlands East Indies.

Essential Requirements in the Indian Ocean (21) The following are the essential requirements in the Indian Ocean area:-

(a) Ceylon as the main operational base for controlling sea routes;

(b) Maintenance of Addu Atoll as an alternative operational base;

(c) A naval supply and repair base remote from Soviet air attack.

Kilindini is suggested;

(d) A naval escort base at Fremantle;

(e) The development and maintenance in peace of the alternative air route through the Middle East, namely, Australia-Cocos Islands-Diego Garcia-Seychelles-East Africa.

Strategy in the Pacific (22) In South East Asia and the Pacific, our basic strategy should be to control the sea and air communications leading southward from Japan and North China, and to take such offensive action as is practicable against the enemy's communications, industrial areas, ports and bases, until such time as ultimate offensive action can be launched. In order to implement this basic strategy operational bases should be established in the vicinity of the following lines:-

(a) Advanced operational bases on the line Shanghai-OkinawaIwo Jima-Wake-Midway;

(b) Intermediate operational bases on the line Formosa- Philippines-Carolines-Marshalls-Midway-Dutch Harbour;

(c) Rear operational bases on the line Hainan-North BorneoAdmiralties-Solomons-Fiji-Pearl Harbour. Although Singapore is in rear of this line, its advantages from an Empire point of view demand its inclusion as a rear operational base.

(23) Whatever agreements may be entered into in peace, the active cooperation of the United States of America from the outset in an emergency, cannot be guaranteed. Failing her immediate and full co-operation, the importance of the line of bases under (22)(c) is greatly enhanced.

(24) The south-east of Australia should be developed as an arsenal in the Pacific, analogous in function to that which the United Kingdom fulfils in the Atlantic.

(25) The existing air bases at Moresby, Nadzab, the Admiralties, Rabaul, and in the Solomons, should be maintained by Australia.

Security of Bases (26) Reliance should be placed mainly on the Navy and the Air for the security of our operational bases in the Pacific and Indian Ocean areas.

Co-operation with Foreign Powers (27) Co-operation of the Empire with the United States of America is of paramount importance. Australia should also encourage the closest co-operation with China, France, Siam, the Netherlands Indies and Portugal, with particular reference to their possessions in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

Scientific Development (28) Scientific developments may necessitate revolutionary changes in the organisation, equipment and employment of the armed forces, but, in the existing state of our knowledge, it would be premature to make any major changes.

(29) Many of the conclusions in this paper may require radical revision in the light of further knowledge.

(30) There is a pressing need for the closest association between the services and scientific research on the highest plane, but, notwithstanding this need, the continuance of existing links between the individual services and science is necessary.

Collaboration with other nations of the British Commonwealth and especially with the United Kingdom is essential.

Australian Forces to be Maintained in Peace (31) Australian forces for operations in the strategic concept envisaged in this appreciation should be organised to fulfil the requirements of- (a) A Naval mobile Task Unit consisting of aircraft carriers with their escorts, capable of forming part of an Empire Task Force and co-operating with the United States Navy;

(b) A Fleet Train for the maintenance of our mobile Task Unit;

(c) A Sea Frontier Force consisting of escorts for our shipping, and for the seaward defence of our bases;

(d) Amphibious craft for combined operations;

(e) Standard Army formations designed for operations on normal terrain, and for amphibious operations, but capable of conversion to meet the conditions of jungle warfare;

(f) Army Garrison Forces for the protection of our bases against sea and air raids and for internal security;

(g) Adequate maintenance provision for the Forces under (e) and (f);

(h) An Air mobile Task Force, including units for long range missions and transportation, ready to move wherever required for strategic purposes or in support of the other Services;

(i) Air units for the protection of our bases and focal areas against sporadic raids.

[AA:A5954, BOX 1645]